I don’t know about you, but I’m more than ready to spend long, lazy days outside having fun and enjoying the sun. One of my favorite ways to spend a summer afternoon is to have a picnic. It’s the perfect way to laze away an afternoon with good friends and delicious food. And after the last eighteen months(!), we all deserve a stress-free day enjoying the outdoors!
Picnics are a wonderful opportunity to enjoy nature, but shouldn’t be a time to create waste. With just a little bit of planning, your next picnic will be eco-friendly by creating little to no waste. Enjoying the beautiful outdoors with as little impact as possible is always my top priority.
Here are my top seven tips for creating a sustainable picnic.
The first item to organize is some sort of container to carry all your delicious food and drinks. Depending on where you are picnicking and how far you need to walk to get there will decide the best container to use.
I have an insulated basket with a handle that a friend gave me years ago. It’s a perfect size for four people and the padded handle makes it easy to carry.
Coolers work great for hot days but aren’t always the easiest to transport. If you’ve dragged a cooler across a sandy beach you know what I’m talking about!
Backpacks are a great choice when you’ll be walking a long distance and need to keep your hands free to help younger children or to carry other items.
My absolute favorite option is a basket or bag that has specific locations for the plates, cups, cutlery, etc. These make beautiful and unique wedding gifts that will be cherished for years. This style of basket is more expensive initially but will save a considerable amount of time and money over the years. You’ll have exactly what you need when you need it. You’ll never need to buy single-use plastic plates or cutlery because your basket is already stocked with what you need and the pockets or straps keep everything sorted and organized.
There is no need for single-use paper or plastic plates at a picnic! We’ve developed the habit that picnics require driving to the store and buying paper or plastic plates that will be promptly thrown away after the meal.
Simply head to your local thrift shop or discount store to pick up a set of reusable plates. Choose plates that are lightweight and won’t break easily. I was gifted wooden plates several years ago and these are perfect for picnics.
Bring along a bag to put the used plates in to keep the inside of your picnic basket clean. Wash the plates when you get home and then immediately return them to your picnic basket so they are ready for the next trip.
Like the plates, designate a set of cutlery to be used for picnics and keep them in the picnic basket.
Bamboo utensils are lightweight and work great in a picnic basket. I bought each member of my family a set for Christmas last year. They are wrapped in a cloth and ready to pop in a picnic basket or lunch bag. Net Zero Company has a beautiful set that would be perfect for any picnic.
There is no need to spend money, however, if you have extra utensils around the house. Use what you have is always the best choice! A budget option is to pick up utensils at a thrift shop. Metal utensils will last your lifetime so this would be a one-time purchase.
Wrap each set of utensils in a cloth napkin to keep them organized and from knocking against other items in the basket.
Paper towels or napkins create unnecessary waste and expense. Instead, buy a set of cloth napkins that you can use for years. Choose a cotton fabric for absorbency and dark colors which won’t show stains as easily.
If you sew, take 12” x 12” squares of fabric, give them a simple hem, and these can be your picnic napkins. This is a great way to use smaller scraps of fabric that you have leftover from other projects.
Toss used napkins in the next load of laundry and immediately repack them in your picnic basket so they’ll always be ready to use. Wrap your cutlery in the napkins to keep them organized and from getting tossed around the basket.
A picnic is always more comfortable when you have a large cloth to lay on the ground. The tablecloth that isn’t quite nice enough for your dining table anymore could be perfect for a picnic. Dark colors work best for the outdoors.
I taught kindergarten for years so here’s a helpful trick if your picnic will include several children: bring a towel for each child. The child sits on one end of the towel and they put their food on the other end. Everyone has a designated space and much less food gets spilled or knocked over. Put the towels in a circular shape so everyone can see each other and chat.
Reusable Containers for Food
Skip disposable containers which will be thrown away after only one use. You’ll save money and eliminate waste.
When choosing containers, consider whether you prefer to serve food from communal containers onto a plate, or prefer to pack each person’s meal in individual containers. In Japan, these individual meals are called obento boxes.
Always use what you have at home as a first option. If you are looking to invest in items that can be used for years, aluminum obento boxes are a great option. They are lightweight, won’t break, and these containers from Net Zero Company are guaranteed not to leak. Choose the larger size for communal eating and the small to medium size if packing a complete meal for each person.
Read more about Japanese Obento Boxes here and how this ancient tradition is a modern solution to waste.
Silicone bags work well for communal food. My bags have a slider across the top that is leak-proof, lightweight, and flexible.
Bees Wraps are also a great option for transporting food that doesn’t have a liquid ingredient. The wraps mold to the size of the food and are sealed by gently squeezing the wrap around the food. The warmth of your hand helps to seal the wrap. Wraps are also great to bring along for leftovers such as half an apple.
Reusable water bottles or thermoses come in all sizes these days making it easy to never use single-use, plastic water bottles. Fill reusable bottles before you leave home with water or other favorite beverages. Many water bottles are insulated and will also keep beverages hot for several hours. Here is a link to a lightweight water bottle I use that works equally well for both hot and cold drinks.
You’ll also save a great deal of money once you stop buying plastic water bottles. According to Earthday.org, Americans buy an average of 167 disposable plastic water bottles each year, costing $266. Multiply that by each member of your family and the impact on your budget is considerable. But the greater impact is on the environment.
Americans purchase 50 billion water bottles a year. As only 20% are being recycled, 40 billion bottles end up in landfills where they will sit for generations. This level of waste is not sustainable and has created enormous problems for the environment. Committing to reusable water bottles is an important first step to solving the plastic problem.
Follow these seven tips for creating a sustainable picnic and you can relax knowing that you did your part to help the environment! Wishing you a wonderful summer!
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